Monthly Archives: July 2016

Vassa Visits

It’s traditional just before or in the early part of the Vassa for bhikkhus to go and pay respects and ask forgiveness of particular senior monks who may be living nearby or who are otherwise close and of the same tradition.

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So, shortly before my birthday Ajahn Amaro came with a group from Amaravati not only to pay their respects and ask forgiveness but also to wish me a Happy Birthday.

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Then yesterday, Luang Por Kampong came with his attendant monk to pay their respects and ask forgiveness and surprised me by being accompanied again by Ajahn Amaro and a small group from Amaravati. Luang Por Kampong is spending the Vassa at Bradford-on-Avon and I’ve known him for many years. When he first entered monastic life and was still in white prior to ordaining as a novice, Luang Por Chah sent him to stay at the remote forest temple on the shores of a huge lake where I was then living.

Āsālha Pūjā and My Birthday

This year, Āsālha Pūjā, the anniversary of the first teaching the Buddha ever gave, fell on Tuesday, July20160717_111935abc 19th and the following day was the day of entering the Vassa, the annual Rainy Season retreat, incumbent on all bhikkhus and sāmaneras to observe for three months. As usual our public celebration had to be held on a Sunday when most people are free to attend and the nearest Sunday being the 17th, that was the day we chose. Now the 17th of July just happens to be my birthday, so, I’m afraid that was added to the celebration. Fortunately the weather was good, it didn’t rain, although to begin with it was a bit cloudy but around midday the sun came out and when we gathered outside for the offerings and the sermon that followed it was blazing.

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My talk focussed, as you might have expected, on the Buddha’s first sermon. I reminded my listeners of what had led up to it: the Buddha’s Enlightenment, then his observation that the world and the people in it were obsessed with attachment and unlikely to heed him but how he had been persuaded by Brahma Sahampati that there would be some with but little dust in their eyes and therefore, reflecting that people, like lotuses in a pool, are at different stages of development but all seeking the light, thankfully, he decided to speak. For the first to hear him he sought out the five ascetics who’d been his companions when he’d been fasting and who had left him when he gave up that practice. And so two months after the Enlightenment there he was with them in the deer park where they were staying. Had you passed by you would have seen six weather beaten men, men who had lived rough without house or home for many years. They would have been poorly dressed and had it not been India where holy men and ascetics have always been revered, they would probably have been condemned and avoided. Had you crept closer you would have seen that one was speaking while the other five listened and what you would have heard would have been the Buddha outlining his message of the Middle Way, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the very same profound message that he was to teach for the remaining forty-five years of his life. At the end of the first teaching one of those five had a major awakening and became a Sotāpanna, which means he had entered the stream leading certainly to
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Following my talk we circumambulated the Buddha Rupa three times carrying candles flowers and incense. And then I sat while, to celebrate my birthday, people queued to ceremonially bathe my hands.

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It was a great day and I am thankful to everyone who helped make it so, including all the two hundred and more people who turned up on the day. Anumodanā!

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Lord Avebury’s Memorial

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The Memorial for Lord Avebury was held at the Royal Institution in London’s Mayfair on Thursday, June 30th at two o’clock in the afternoon. It was a terrific afternoon.

We drove down from Warwickshire and on our way did a loop off and back onto the M40 to pick up Jim who was a great fan of Lord Avebury and had corresponded with him for years. It was a beautiful, sunny afternoon and a smooth and trouble free journey. The only awkward bit was the last bit, finding our way through the oneway streets of Mayfair to the Royal Institution. We made it in plenty of time and were very courteously made welcome and taken to our seats in the lecture theatre where the main event was to take place. Unsurprisingly, there were so many of the great and the good mostly from the world of politics and the realm of human rights. You might spot in the photographs below Bianca Jagger in the same row as us and Jeremy Corbyn in the one behind us. He was one of the speakers and despite his current troubles sat through the whole afternoon.

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This was what I had to say:

Good afternoon.

More than thirty years ago a certain prisoner told me that Lord Avebury, with whom he was corresponding, was a Buddhist. Then one evening I was sitting in another prison cell and the man I was talking to told me that he had complained bitterly that there were no books on Buddhism in the prison library. He said he’d written to Lord Avebury. ‘And look,’ he said and he pulled out from under his bed a box of Buddhist books that the local library had sent in for him – all because of a letter from Lord Avebury.

I thought I’d better get in touch with this man and so I did and over the years we became close friends and frequently fellow conspirators.

And now he’s gone!

When someone close to us, someone we love and admire dies we find ourselves face to face with the stark reality of Change. Change that waits for none of us, whoever or whatever we might be.

The Buddha once asked his disciples if what they experienced, what they were conscious of seeing, touching, tasting, smelling and thinking about was permanent or impermanent. Unsurprisingly they answered, ‘Impermanent.’

Then the Buddha asked them if what was impermanent and forever changing was satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Obviously what we cannot grasp or keep is bound to be a source of frustration and discontent and therefore the answer was ‘unsatisfactory.’

The Buddha went on, ‘Can it be said, of what is impermanent and unsatisfactory, that this is mine, this am I, this is myself?’ No.

And so we come to the true nature of our existence that the Buddha said we must see and understand if we are ever to learn to let go of greed and attachment and free ourselves of suffering. Our true nature that the Buddha described as being Impermanent, Unsatisfactory and without self, soul or substance.

Eric, I believe, derived great inspiration from these three characteristics. They were the driving force behind what he did. He saw that if the self was a delusion then the terms we use to separate ourselves and which generate greed and aversion are mere conventions, as such there is no reason for separation and no justification for the oppression of one by another. With the letting go of self, loving-kindness, for which Eric was well-known, blossoms. And if all is change, it means things can be changed and so whatever is unsatisfactory, whatever is a source of suffering, can be changed and changed for the better. As we all here know very well, that’s what Eric was dedicated to, to changing things for the better.

But now he is gone and all that remains is for us to love him, to remember him and to let him go.

When I last saw him he asked for some chanting at his funeral, which we did, and today as well. So to conclude, I’m going to recite one short verse that is usually chanted on occasions like this.

Aniccaa vata sa”nkhaaraa — uppaada vaya dhammino
Uppajjitvaa nirujjhanti — tesa.m vuupasamo sukho.

Impermanent are all conditioned things, Their nature is to rise and fall:
Having come into being, they pass, Release from them is bliss supreme – Nirvana.

After the speeches we were invited for refreshments and to view a little exhibition of memorabilia from Lord Avebury’s long and varied life.

Most generously it had been his wish that the donations in his memory should be made to Angulimala, the Buddhist prison Chaplaincy of which he was the Patron. Donations are still trickling in but so far well over a thousand pounds has been given.

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At this year’s Spring Hill Buddha Grove Celebration in September we are going to plant a tree in his memory at the Buddha Grove.